By Brent Andrews
When it came time for me to leave for college in the fall, I was ready. It felt like a logical transition to me. I was eager for the freedom and as the end of my final high school summer neared, I was at peace with the change. At least that’s what I thought. I had come to terms with selling my first car, quitting my job, and saying hard goodbyes to my friends who would soon be sprawled across the globe. I felt the weight of change and mourned the inevitable end to an extremely formational and adventurous season of my life. As college crept up I even began to say some angsty things to my parents like, “I can’t wait to be out of here,” and “finally I can live on my own.” In retrospect, I understand how that probably sounded to them. I imagine the ungrateful tone that accompanied my nervous comments weren’t easy for them to endure. Needless to say, I regret those words. I rationalized leaving by trying to think about what I wouldn’t miss rather than what I would. The critical mistake in doing this proved to be that I didn’t say goodbye well to the things I would miss and let my excitement for college inhibit my ability to think about all that I was leaving. It wasn’t until I moved in and started going to classes that I felt the weight of the transition.
I didn’t have friends going to the same college, so for the first few weeks it was hard for me to get enough traction to feel grounded. This is when I started to miss the things that I had decided not to say goodbye to. It was the late dinners with my parents, space I had to be alone, sailboat that I practically lived on for two summers, proximity to friends, and the deep community that I had built in Church that I still needed to mourn. It wasn’t that I wanted to go back, the movement felt good, but I had left behind things that I didn’t realize were so important to me. I was frustrated that I had to leave to see. This realization forced me to be aware that I wasn’t as present to the privilege I had while I was at home, and that was a hard bite for me to swallow.
It took me a while, but I started making friends and I began to feel more and more comfortable. But, I continued to lack a community. I had decided before I left to try to take going to churches slow and see what came of it. I kept getting invited to large worship gatherings and I went to a few, but I just couldn’t do it. At first, I felt like maybe it was a fundamental flaw in my personality. I felt awkward and the style of worship was not for me as I am an introvert and am not one for small talk or large groups. Also, I have always felt that following Christ means loving everyone well, and I often feel that Christians in the South blur this line. It feels to me that people remain in their comfort zone by loving other Christians in similar situations to them while simultaneously shutting out the idea of learning and loving from other, more challenging, people. I hate to make generalizations, but that has been my experience in a few cases and, frankly, it frustrates me. I started turning myself off to the idea of searching for a church. I would do reflections on Sabbath, but that’s about it. I went to a few services on my own, but nothing felt right. The most connected and spiritual I felt was at a meeting for a social justice club that I joined. The questions were big, the group was small, and I felt called out to live a lifestyle of justice when I was there. I loved it. Dare I say that, recently, I have been relational rather than religious.
After that moment, I started to play with the idea of seeking a lifestyle in my time of transition rather than a church. This type of thinking made the pressure of feeling like I was failing to find an impossibly good church disappear, but it didn’t make the loneliness of the situation cease. I think it is important for me to note here that I go to school in Bowling Green, Kentucky and I was raised in Nashville in a wonderful progressive Episcopalian church (extremely rare), so part of my struggle has proven to be my own efforts to find something to replace the irreplaceable. But, being drawn to a lifestyle was something that I felt like I could go for. It also made me hopeful that I would be more present to the life I have been given and make sure that I acknowledged it as a gift.
Experimenting, especially with church and god, can often feel really daunting to me and has the power to make me feel guilty about not finding what I want. But, is that what God wants for us? I don’t think so. He calls us to be radical and think deeply (among other things). Church and community play a big part in worshiping well, but it can’t end there. Being present in daily life and actively living out god’s will should reflect the love we receive from Him. So, for now I am leaning in and trying my best to listen well, love deeply, and make others question my motives. I want to seek god out of my own context for where I think think he is, but rather allow myself to feel his presence in every aspect of my life.
One place that I want to grow in is the next year is finding the way that god presents himself inside and outside of the church. For example, I see the holiness and scale of god in orthodox churches, but can see his joy and scope when I am at more contemporary church. In the same way, I can see gods desire for equality and heaven on Earth when I go to social justice meetings. I see the beauty and supremacy of his creation when I climb or hike outdoors. I think my prayer for this upcoming season will be something along the lines of, “Lord, let me hear you, see you, and feel you in spaces that I never have before. Allow me to be present and slow down to listen to you. Give me the strength to build community based on a lifestyle.”
Author Bio: Brent Andrews is from Nashville, Tennessee and is currently a freshman at Western Kentucky University where he studies Foreign Affairs and Mandarin Chinese. He loves to spend time outdoors rock climbing, hiking, camping, ect. This is a very transitional time for him and he is excited to be able to lean in and share with Ignited as he continues to grow.